SS Weekly Highlight

SUBSEA kicks-off three year program with ‘Observation Cruise’ research activities —

Abstract:The SUBSEA (Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog) research program is led by PI Darlene Lim (SST), and comprises a multi-institution and multi-disciplinary team, including Code S and T participation.  SUBSEA had its kick-off meeting in late September and will be beginning field research activities over Nov.1-4, 2017. Over this time, the team will be observing vent exploration in the Pescadero Basin. SUBSEA is a three year program that began in September 2017.

SUBSEA conducts real (non-simulated) telerobotic science to understand the habitability potential of Ocean Worlds in our Solar System. Our science will include observation, instrument data gathering, and sample collection focused on fluid venting at isolated seamounts in the deep ocean as analog environments to hydrothermal systems on other Ocean Worlds. We will conduct our scientific fieldwork from the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus, which is equipped with the Hercules and Argus Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). Access to this infrastructure is enabled through in-kind support from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) (Section 14, Letter of Support). These ROVs are controlled under low latency feedback conditions by proximal (ship-based) human operators who are provided scientific support and exploration direction by a remote, distributed Science Team (dST) who are located at Exploration Command Centers (ECCs) throughout the U.S. and connected to the Nautilus via a telepresence-enabled communications infrastructure.

The Nautilus science-driven telepresence mission architecture is a high-fidelity, ‘flight like’ analog to Low Latency Telerobotic (LLT) mission concepts that are envisioned as an important component of NASA’s long-term strategy for achieving extended human presence in deep-space. LLT ops concepts offer opportunities for what the terrestrial robotics community considers to be high-quality telepresence. Under these mission designs, astronauts will be in close communication proximity to a surface exploration site (thereby minimizing round-trip communication latency with the robotic assets to ~<2sec), thus extending human cognition to deep-space targets such as asteroids and Mars prior to (and in anticipation of) putting humans on those planetary surfaces. LLT mission concepts also involve a supporting dST that is located on Earth, and separated from the LLT crew by unavoidable and high communication latencies. The impact of these communication delays during science-driven LLT missions is still not understood, nor have LLT mission concepts been tested and vetted extensively in analog environments. To address this knowledge gap, the SUBSEA team will leverage the Nautilus telepresence infrastructure to conduct real (non-simulated) science focused on objectives related to the habitability of Ocean World systems under simulated deep space/Mars-like high-latency communication delays between the ship and shore-based dST as an analog to future LLT operations. We will use these mission conditions to gain unique and unparalleled first-hand operational knowledge that will affect the development of LLT concepts that enhance and enable science and discovery in Deep Space, while also providing scientific knowledge to affect the preparation for future robotic missions to other Ocean Worlds in our Solar System. Specifically, we will focus on Science, Science Operations and Technology PSTAR program elements as follows:

  1. a) Science– SUBSEA is anchored by a Science program that will 1) broaden our understanding of the potential habitability of other Ocean Worlds in our Solar System, and 2) characterize novel deep sea environments on our own planet. Specifically, SUBSEA will investigate the habitability of hydrothermal systems on Ocean Worlds that may lack plate tectonics. We will do so by examining how geochemical disequilibria arising from a range of water-rock reactions at two relevant analog locations (the isolated submarine volcanoes of the Lō`ihi Seamount off Hawai`i and the Teahitia Seamount off Tahiti) can drive the availability of energy sources to sustain a diverse set of microbial metabolisms, and where and for how long such conditions are most likely to persist.
  2. b) Science Operations:The SUBSEA Science Operations research program will leverage the high-fidelity LLT analog environment of the Nautilustelepresence mission architecture and the real (non-simulated) SUBSEA science activities to evaluate and identify specific concepts of operations (ConOps) and capabilities that will have enabling and enhancing value for science-driven LLT exploration of Deep Space and Mars (Fig.1B).
  3. c) Technology:SUBSEA will use prototype information technologies that will be evaluated and iterated upon based on their ability to support science-driven LLT operations. We will achieve this by integrating our Exploration Ground Data Systems (xGDS) software with Nautilustelepresence mission support systems, and then systematically evaluating the technology during our SUBSEA field campaigns. xGDS will provide human/robotic software functionality to support integration and visualization of diverse data products relevant to future human exploration of deep space.





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